There’s no doubt that Darwin’s theory of evolution – that the species that adapt are the ones that survive – is entirely applicable to the revolution sweeping through marketing communications.
The demands that digitisation, two-way conversations and real-time response put on brands requires both clients and agencies to become agile: more work, across more channels, faster, and with the same or smaller budgets.
To achieve this, both client and agency have to adapt across the board: structures; working practices; briefing and approval processes; budgeting methodology; measurement; and taking risk.
Ultimately, that leads to putting partnership and trust at the heart of the client-agency relationship in such a way as to accommodate risk and continuously to adapt and evolve their relationship.
Following the successful two-day Adaptathon we’ve just had on the agility strand of my ADAPT agenda, we asked a client and two agencies to give their perspectives and tips.
Managing director, marketing, Barclays UK
On defining agility "For Barclays, it’s the ability to assimilate new information into our thinking and do something quickly enough to make a difference within the context of the brand’s overall goals and strategy."
On why Barclays went agile "The impetus for change came shortly after I joined in 2008. A combination of the digital revolution and the impact of the crash on banks’ reputations meant we had to look at different engagement models.
"The big shift now is that we can’t make a distinction between how we behave and our brand. That led us to change the way we approached marketing and the way we work. The biggest risk was not to change.
"We’re a service brand, and it is service brands that need to be the most responsive."
On how the work has changed "We had a marketing calendar based on five to six set-piece, planned campaigns a year – for ISAs, mortgages and so on: two months on this, two on that.
"Now, we still have those pieces of planned activity, but there is additional work in and around those building blocks that we plan for – we just don’t know in advance what we will say and how.
"In addition, there is unplanned work driven by events outside the bank. We use a weekly editorial board, with a mix of Barclays and agency staff, to decide what to react to and how. It could be fast-turnaround films, content published digitally, or initiating social-media conversations. Recently, it has been about changes in mortgage regulations [which took effect in April]. We saw the huge press coverage and reacted.
"We keep the formats and vehicles consistent. The challenge is finding fixed points in the framework that allow you to move fast."
On sticking to the strategy "We have a clear, one-page internal strategy document that allows fast decision-making. To be agile, the strategy has to be clear. Give people the North Star and let them find their own way."
On the impact of agility on client structure "We want to be in a position where someone quite junior can respond to something quickly. If you’re clear what the overall strategy is, then you can empower people, push decisions down, shorten approval processes."
On measurement "Trust and consideration are long-term measures. But we also need quick answers for some of our activity, so we focus on the ones that influence customers every day. You can focus on the wrong data and change direction every week."
On budgets and risk "Being fluid is essential. You have to be able to move marketing money around fast. It’s easier to take risks on smaller stuff. If you can use the economics of production to make 10 cheaper films for digital channels, it’s not such an issue if three don’t work."
On remuneration "I have a hankering to return to commission. Time-based remuneration is a problem in an agile world. This is a work in progress for us, but payment-by-results is too complex."
Bennison’s tip "You can’t delegate agility. It’s essential to be actively involved in making decisions. And have faith in your agencies, people and processes."
Managing director, BBH (Barclays’ advertising agency)
On how agility empowers agencies "Agility offers agencies the opportunity to do more work, in more channels, quicker – and, yes, perhaps for the same or less money. But taking two years to get a piece of work out used to be soul-destroying. Now we can get it out fast, and improve it to give it more impact. It’s exciting."
On structure "We have collapsed walls between departments. Creatives sit with the Barclays team. Production sits with the Barclays team. There is less baton-passing between departments. We have smaller core teams, and people are less fixed on accounts."
On agile creativity "We used to operate in a launch-and-leave way. Now we talk about high-performance creativity. We put something out, we need to react in real-time and improve its performance."
On measurement "It’s difficult. Every account should have a performance model for every piece of work so you understand how work is expected to perform. Then you know which numbers matter and how to make it work better."
On budgets and costs "There are fundamental budgeting challenges for agencies. If the client is genuinely customer-centric, you can’t plan the work too far in advance. That makes it difficult to commit headcount.
"A lot of cost is in control and approval processes. If you trust people more, you can shorten those and take out cost, but quality-control systems are still vital."
Rudd’s tip "When the work goes live, that’s just the start. Ideally, budget should be kept back for optimisation. But remember, quality will always be more important than quantity."
Head of agile client solutions, Havas Media
On agile culture "Media agencies are no different. Being agile is an opportunity to change the agency culture: resources, structures, skill sets. It isn’t necessarily about speed; it can be about being adaptable or the way you approach working. At the core, you need small, tight, teams."
On the importance of trust "Being agile isn’t easy. It’s a long journey. It needs to be built on a solid foundation of trust."
On measurement "It’s hard to find relevant performance metrics on a daily basis. Key metrics like awareness or consideration are longer-term. Ideally, we need to find digital proxies, but they are not always available."
On remuneration "Media agencies are in a race to the bottom at the moment. If we can crack the measurement and performance dimensions, agreeing the metrics, then we could move to a performance-based remuneration model.
"There are some enlightened procurement departments that understand this, but others that are just focused on cost control. The trick is to negotiate with both the marketing and procurement departments in the same room."
Betts’ tip "Accept a level of risk, and understand not everything will work. If the relationship is based on trust, then that is OK."